Pittsburgh City Council calls on state to reform redistricting process

Pittsburgh City Council calls on state to reform redistricting process

Author: Alanna Koll/Tuesday, October 24, 2017/Categories: Pittsburgh

In an effort to end what many in the political world consider the unfair practice of gerrymandering in state and congressional legislative districts, Pittsburgh City Council presented a resolution Tuesday to support two state bills that aim to reform the process by which legislative districts are redrawn.  

The Will of Council presented by a number of city councilmembers calls the decennial drawing of districts a “detriment of our representative democracy,” and argued that the state, and the city of Pittsburgh, “deserve a fair, fully transparent, impartial and depoliticized process.”  

Councilmembers Natalia Rudiak (District 4) and Dan Gilman (District 8), sponsors of the resolution, are calling on the Pittsburgh and Allegheny legislative delegation in Harrisburg to support Senate Bill 22 and House Bill 722 currently before the General Assembly.  

“I think gerrymandering is the single greatest threat to democracy,” said Councilman Gilman. “One of the biggest reasons we have no ability to compromise and have deep gridlock in DC and Harrisburg is we don’t have districts that are representative of the people anymore. We don’t have districts that are even vaguely competitive.” 

The bills, sponsored by Sen. Lisa Bosocola (D-Lehigh) and Rep. Steve Samuelson (D-Northampton), would amend the state’s constitution to provide for a Redistricting Commission, comprised solely of independent citizens, to reform the way legislative and congressional districts in Pennsylvania are re-drawn.  

“Pennsylvania in particular has a very profound problem with gerrymandering,” said Councilwoman Rudiak. “We want a fair, transparent, accurate legislative and congressional district drawing process.”  

According to Rep. Samuelson, a recent study by the Electoral Integrity Project showed Pennsylvania ranks third-worst in the nation for the fairness of its electoral boundaries- only Wisconsin and North Carolina scored worse.  

“When politicians manipulate district lines to benefit themselves and their parties, the public always loses,” wrote Samuelson in a co-sponsorship memo to colleagues on his bill.  

Pittsburgh City Council joins Allegheny County Council in voicing their support for the redistricting reform legislation, as members introduced a similar resolution before their body earlier this month.  

“There are many people who are concerned,” said County Councilman Paul Klein (District 11) on the issue. “It’s not simply that you can put democracy on auto-drive and expect things to turn out for the best because it doesn’t work that way.”  

The County resolution calls on leaders in the state General Assembly to undertake public hearings on SB 22 and HB 722, so as to hear from “all those in the hills and valleys across the state.” 

Aiming to end the ease with which lawmakers are able to draw and define the very districts they represent, the state legislation will create an 11 person independent citizens’ commission with four individuals registered with the largest political party in the state; four individuals registered with the second-largest political party in the state; and three individuals with affiliations that are not of either popular parties.  

They are then required to develop a preliminary plan for Congressional and state legislative districts and hold a series of public hearings across the state on that plan. The plan must then receive seven positive votes by the Commission in order to be approved.  

The bills were both introduced earlier this year and both currently sit in the House and Senate State Government Committees, respectively. The sponsors of the legislation hope to have the bills moved through the legislative process before the next round of redistricting is triggered in 2020.